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Will Republicans Blow Their Senate Chances One More Time?

Generally, turnout is more GOP friendly in midterms in Georgia than in presidential years, though Democrats are trying to get black voters aroused about alleged voter suppression efforts. They are  trying to get the black voter share of all voters up to 2012 and 2008 levels again in 2014.  The Democrats have selected Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former four-term centrist Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, to be their standard-bearer in 2014.  It is a smart pick. Nunn will sail to her party nomination, while Republicans battle it out in a multi-candidate primary.  All the well worn “war on women” themes are certain to be rolled out to try to pick off suburban women who may be put off if the GOP nominee turns out to be a right-wing flamethrower in the Todd Akin mode.

Three current GOP House members are competing for the nomination, including Jack Kingston, Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun. Kingston is considered the most centrist nominee, and Broun the most conservative.  Broun has called evolution and the big bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell."  Gingrey and Broun are currently atop the polls, and Gingrey has raised the most  money ($2.6 million).  There are other candidates as well, including former candidate for governor Karen Handel and David Perdue, the son of the former governor. Handel is  attacking all three congressmen for their long years in Washington, providing general-election material for Nunn, much as Newt Gingrich set up the anti-Bain attacks on Mitt Romney for Obama’s general-election campaign.

Kentucky is a far different story. The state is one of the least diverse in America: 86% white and only  8% black. This should be far more favorable terrain for the Republicans than Georgia, particularly since the sitting senator, Mitch McConnell, is running for re-election. However, McConnell  has never won by huge margins, and held on in 2008 by only 6%, running  far behind John McCain, who won the state by 16%. The state was even less enthusiastic about Barack Obama in 2012, with Romney winning by 26%.

Democrats other than Obama have been very competitive and at times won statewide races in Kentucky. The governor of Kentucky, Steve Beshear, is a Democrat who has won by big margins both times he ran.   McConnell is 71, more than twice the age of his  Democratic opponent,  Alison Lundergan Grimes, now 34, assuming McConnell survives a primary challenge from wealthy businessman Matt Bevin.

Mcconnell is favored to win the primary, but the general-election contest will  be close. McConnell is already trying to associate Grimes with Obama, Pelosi and Harry Reid, all of whom are very unpopular in the commonwealth. Grimes will use her youth and McConnell’s long history of what she calls  “obstruction” in Washington as evidence of the need for a change and a new generation of elected officials.  Grimes is a far stronger candidate than actress Ashley Judd would have been. Judd, who considered entering  the race for several months,  would have been the toast of the Matt Damon/Hollywood crowd, but her positions on the environment and women’s rights  would have been “out of step," to use a New York Times expression, with most Kentucky voters.

Sean Trende, in a thorough analysis of the Kentucky race, argued that the state’s rural character will play against Grimes, especially given the president’s EPA war on coal -- a big issue in eastern Kentucky.  McConnell will have all the campaign money he needs to attempt to tie Grimes to everything the state does not like about Obama’s policies. McConnell is a political survivor, but there have been other older GOP senators who have gone down in primaries or general elections in recent cycles in GOP friendly states -- Ted Stevens and Richard Lugar, among them.

Both Georgia and Kentucky may be races decided by 5% or less.  Both races will suck up campaign cash that otherwise would be available in other states where there are good pickup opportunities. I think the odds of the GOP winning both Georgia and Kentucky are about 50-50. Losing one would require winning all seven of the pickup states, a pretty unlikely scenario, unless it is a massive wave year for the GOP.